Something to Be Said: Part Two (Fear)
I have come to talk about fear. Fear is the nastiest devil the world ever welcomed into her quarters—rude and terrifying and full of lies—but the little devil is crafty enough to hide from even the most innocent eyes. Yes, fear is a sort of goblin, or ghoul, who promises you smoke and mirrors. Mirrors, I say, because he splits you into thousands of pieces and reflects you and refracts you unto yourself. You hardly know who you are or which face is the real one. Fear is the worst four-letter word. Curse words, ugly enough to the ear, are really not such harmful things. They’re just a trip of the tongue, a guttural attempt at expressing some stroke of anger, or frustration, or amazement, or total unbelief. In a sense—how much better these words than fear, since they are at least born from passion, and passion is the seed of life, the welling up of expression in the body. Fear reigns in the opposite kingdom, the under-kingdom of paralysis and stasis and caught breaths and planted feet. Fear shocks your body to the spot and surrounds you with mirrors, haunting you into a belief that you can choose so many roads, so many houses, so many rooms; but leaving you considering the multitude of possible glories and miseries so confusedly that, in the end, you choose none. You have resigned yourself to stasis and doubt; if you are not moving, and not going, or growing, what are you except dying? It’s worse than death, perhaps; because death moves you to an end, moves you to a new beginning; in fear there is a smothering of breath and a stopping of all the essential processes that give you the will to move.
Fear is an insidious beast because it cloaks itself in invisibility. You hardly know you are choked by fear, suffocated by its cunning grasp, until you are at your wits’ end and you wake up to the truth of the matter. Something has been splitting you apart, making you double in all your ways. You are, like the words of James, tossed about by the winds that blow the ship, because you lack a solid unity, an inner conviction that this is this and that is that. Fear has robbed you of this simple correspondence, and has put thoughts in your head that divide you against yourself, that make you like a house that cannot stand or a family who does not break bread together. Fear robs you of trust, of faith; fear is a merciless thief. It does not stop at anything to take away your joy, your truth, your trust that going forward is the right thing to do. Most of all, it takes from you your peace, and leaves you instead with a rotting gift, a foul-smelling sack of questions, all putrid and sick because they they are not the children of truth, but the illicit sons of lies and illogic. When you want to take a job, fear tells you that the work is too long, or the pay is too little, or you will be sacrificing your joy to a humdrum routine. When you want to leave a job because you are terribly unhappy, or unwell, fear tells you that you are selfish and that people will disapprove; that you are irresponsible and making a king out of pleasure. When you try to find a relationship that makes you happy, that lights up your soul—because you believe that such a thing is possible, believe that it’s what you’re meant for—fear tells you that sacrifice is a sign of love, that happiness is a complex thing and not felt only in high spirits and pleasant emotions. Fear tells you that if you leave, you will regret your choice and spend your days learning to settle for a lesser ideal. When you buy a ticket to travel, fear says you will fall sick and be too weak to enjoy the sights. When you lace up a pair of ice skates, fear stops you and says: you might fall on the ice and crack your bones. When you resolve to sing in the streets, or speak your mind, or—even!—dare to consider yourself a good person—at these moments, fear booms out in its menacing voice and says you’re proud, you’re not humble, you’re making yourself a god. When you make up your mind to do something—anything—fear sends you a hundred complications and whispers, declares, and then shouts that your plans will be doomed to chaos. What a misery! What a stifling prison of unfreedom and mistrust of the self, of life, of the possibility of good.
But, yes! This is the escape. When you receive a moment of light, when you see the trap of fear for what it is—a misery, a threat to your most inviolate freedom—then there is hope. When you can see that fear is making a dwarf of you, turning you into a shrinking thing, far from the ideals you keep safe and protected in the center of your heart—then you reclaim your will to live. You realize that you have been caught up by the invisible hand of fear; and, conscious of its dirty grasp, you start to shake loose its soot and ash.
This is the only possible response to fear: to recognize its untruth and its smallness. When you see that fear is the antithesis of all you believe to be good and true in life, then have all you need to crush it underfoot. You understand that these false fears have no place in a life dedicated to the pursuit of good, and so you gather all your strength—strength seems to come quickly now, bubbling up in a warmth you didn’t know you could feel—and you see to it that fear will not be not your master. You stomp on its pretenses and break free of its chains. Fear has kept you rooted to one spot for oh so very long, and now it is time to scramble out, to teach your legs to walk forward again. Your task is to be bold. It is an essential duty; you must not fail in it. Be bold, and hold on to the truth, and fear will, by and by, have no choice but to vanish, like a ghost, into its crooked hall of mirrors.
Thus finished with his writing, the little creature, whose name was John, laid his papers on the table and then, looking exhausted, curled into a ball, and fell asleep.